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Wednesday, April 7/1976 


"- j " The Washington Star/x 


Garry Wills - ~ ’ - - ' '?■ 

| •• v * ft »- - - ■*' r .*N »’ (r{ 

Hiss case: Gomriiumst / 
versus 



It looks like we’re going 
to have a thorough second 
go-round on the Hiss case — 
one book out already, and 
two more coming. Philip 
Nobile, in the current Harp- 
er’s, takes a poll of public 
figures and finds opinion 
quite sharply divided. 

His poll turns up interest- 
ing surprises^- one of those 
voting for Hiss’s guilt is 
John S. Service, one of the 
more tragic victims of the 
McCarthy era’s injustices. 
William Bundy, who con- 
tributed to the Hiss defense 
fund and was a good friend 
of Hiss’s brother, now finds 
the evidence tells against 
'him. • . ' 

On the other hand, Rob- 
ert Sherrill, who has just 
written a brilliant book on 
the Chappaquiddick cover- 
up, favors Hiss because he 
despises “finks” like Nixon - 
and Chambers — which 
seems to me beside - the 
point. When I met Hiss, I 
liked him. When I met 
Chambers, I thought him a 
very strange duck." What 
has that to do with the ques- 
tion of perjury raised at the 
trial? If likable men could 
never be criminals, we 
would all save a great deal 
of time and money now 
spent on trials." ' - - 

The oddest, defense of all 
comes from Nobile himself. 
Using material from the 
pro-Hiss book by John C. 
Smith, Nobile says that Hiss 
became “a reluctant and 


therefore dubious witness” 
.because he did not want the-.- 
prosecution to use what it 
knew about his stepson’s - 
homosexuality. That is sup- 
posed to explain the Hiss 
“reserve,” which hurt . him 
so much. - . i 

But how does it explain 
anything? Hiss wanted the 
FBI not to use dangerous 
information, so he practiced 
“reserve.” Where is the 
quid pro quo? Is Nobile say- 
ing that if Hiss spoke open- 
ly, the prosecutors would 
defame his stepson? Why? 
After all. Hiss claims the 
FBI was framing him, fak- 
ing evidence, practicing 
.“forgery by typewriter.” ■ 
How would reserve change 
any of this, one way or the 
other? Nobile seems to be 
saying that Hiss cooperated 
in his own conviction to per- 
xsuade the' FBI to go easy on 
his stepson. But how; was • 
such a bargain struck?: How 
would Hiss know the degree 
of reserve that would work? 
And why would he trust 
people out to destroy him 
anyway? For that matter, 
what particular bit of re- 
' serve could have made a 
difference in the hard evi- 
dence of the typewritten 
documents? - : ; N 

.Nobile has another argu- 
.rnent, that no sane man 
would keep maintaining his 
innocence for a quarter of a 
century. But the prisons are 
full of people who" maintain 


their innocence. Nixon will 
. maintain his till he dies, 

. Once one has taken that 
position, how can one with 
dignity .retreat from it? ' 

• I fear that Nobile does ;| 
not really mean that no' 
sane man can claim such 
innocence, but that no lik-jj 
able and decent-appearing : 

.. one can. He had lunch with j 
Hiss. In that episode lies;! 
what I think is the basic,! 
(fallacious) reason people ! 

: have believed in Hiss. He is j 
• clearly a gentleman, and j 
.Chambers was not. The as- 1 
, sumption is a class one, and ■,! 

rather snobbish — that a i 
, gentleman will never lie.i 
Hiss knew how to play on ■ 
that - snobbishness from thei 
, start. He said to. Nixon,.] 
-under questioning: “You,.:) 

, today, and the acting chair- . i 
. man publicly have taken-] 
the attitude when you have;! 
two witnesses, one of whom,! 
is a confessed former 
■ Communist, the other is me,; j 
, that you simply have two;] 
j witnesses saying contradic,- j ; 

- tory things, i as between..;- 
-whom you find it most dif-x 

- ficult to decide on credibil/. 
ity.” 


- - -c How compare Hiss the re- 
l spectable with -Chambers 
:>-who had been a Commu- 
-i; ; 'nist? People “of our sort” 
-4 should not believe people of 
, ’“that” sort. Accept that 
gentleman’s code, and it is 
easy to dismiss the evfcj 
der.ce. . • ' "